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Heart to Heart

A Busy, Striving Person’s Guide to Slowing Down

Written by SYJ Teacher Erin Thorkilsen

Have you heard the words, “Slow down” a lot in a yoga class?  Me too.  Slow down your breath.  Slow down your movements.  It can be hard to do on our mats—to actually take 5 slow deep breaths in down dog during a sun salutation.  Whether it’s due to anxiety, over eagerness, or the need to strive and be better, slowing down is challenging.

Off our mats, it seems even more difficult.  With families, jobs, dogs, husbands, driving kids to lacrosse practices, raising babies, planning trips, helping with homework, and cleaning the house, how can we slow down with so much going on?

Up until recently, I always thought slowing down meant doing less at a different pace: not moving too quickly through a vinyasa, lingering over a Sunday brunch (even when I’m thinking of all the other Sunday things I want to get done like laundry, grocery shopping, etc) putting the work emails aside for an hour and making the choice to go for a walk with a friend or go to class at the studio.  I realize, however, that this is only half of the art of slowing down.

Slowing down ≠ doing less
Slowing down = enjoying more

Slowing down is a way of thinking.

It’s appreciating where we are in the moment and how far we’ve come to get to that point.

For example, have you ever looked at an old picture of yourself? I was looking recently at pictures from when I was in college.  I thought, “Wow, I looked really great then,” but at the time the picture was taken, I know that there was no part of me that appreciated how I looked.  My college self was lamenting on how I looked better in high school. When do we appreciate how we look right now?  Slowing down is putting the perfectionist aside and taking the time, right now, to enjoy.

Slowing down doesn’t have to be taking a vacation; slowing down is taking a moment to really soak in the voice of your loved one who is speaking to you.

Slowing down doesn’t need to be getting everything on the to do list accomplished (house clean, trash out, all emails responded to); it can be making the space in our mind to enjoy the really good song that’s playing, while we clean the house.

What can I right now, in this instance, waiting at the red light or standing in line, find to savor?

Can I allow myself a few seconds to stand with the sun on my face and fully enjoy it, without feeling guilty, lazy, or distracted by what’s next?

The striving New Englander I was raised to be often translates:

slowing down = lazy.

Working hard and always striving to be better feels innate to me; accepting where I am in the moment feels foreign.  I’m grateful for that part inside that pushes me, but I’ve been learning to develop the other part, too.

Slowing down = loving

I’ve had to cultivate the “slow down voice,” which sounds more like, “Do you remember how a couple years ago you couldn’t do full vashistasana? Appreciate that you can!  It’s the part of me that instead of seeing all the things in my little home I want to fix—a new rug, repainting the fireplace mantle, cleaning up the garden outside, instead pauses and appreciates the way the light comes in from the windows and enjoys how cozy everything seems.  I can even find it in moments when I become totally undone, upset at how an old pattern of oversensitivity (that I thought I had “fixed”) seems to back in full force and I’m upset about an email from a parent.  My “slow down voice” says, “Sure, you’re upset, but look how much less upset you’re getting than you would have a year ago.  You’re getting better.”

Slowing down = giving time, time

Even writing this article, I’m having the battle.  Part of me says… I could have written something much deeper, more thoughtful, and more clever… But for one of the first times ever, when I truly slow down for a moment to listen, I can hear that softer voice saying, “It’s ok.  Enjoy what you’ve got.”

4 Responses

  1. Sherri March 23, 2012 9:48 amReply

    Thank you so much, Erin. My kids are off of school this week. Instead of trying to cram my regular calendar into the time and keep up with work, house, blah, blah, blah, I am trying to tamp down my “to do voice” and take some time to enjoy their beautiful little selves. Great reminder to not let the days slip through your fingers.

  2. Paola March 23, 2012 5:17 pmReply

    Dear Erin,
    I loved your reminder of “slowing down” I interpret it as cultivating a state of contentment mixed up with awareness of the present moment,feels delicious…like a mesclun salad, arrugula with red leaf lettuce :-)) Paola

  3. Liz March 23, 2012 7:43 pmReply

    I have been working a lot on this myself. Third trimester and a busy toddler help-i have no choice some days but to move slow. Both also teach me to enjoy more, take in the moment, bask in the present. Funny how out of the classroom I am allowing space for a slower pace but when I teach I move the class so quickly. My own practice is slower than molasses. Tracy has been challenging me to find that more deep and spacious pace. Maybe i have been overcompensating for my inability to move quickly at all. It has been a delight to introduce some pause to class. Thank you, Erin, for validating something I have been working on. It feels good to hear encouraging words.

  4. Ivy April 1, 2012 8:39 pmReply

    Thank you, Erin. Productivity does not always equal happiness. Physically slowing down, or doing less, isn’t the whole answer either. Its slowing down your expectations, your goals, your striving mind to, as cliché as it sounds, live in the present and love what you are right now.

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